The Truth About Mastering The Guitar

“I bet I’m the worst student you’ve ever had” she said as she started to put her guitar away. The truth is, Lisa was probably the most talented person to sit opposite me in months. She was a real natural and picked everything up quicker than most. She was a complete beginner and had always wanted to learn guitar but fear had stopped her from acting on it.

We all have a very low opinion of ourselves. We all have this expectation that once we’ve been shown something, we should therefore know it and be able to demonstrate it immediately and perfectly. We quickly run through a song that has a new chord or riff and we expect its now learned and will be played perfectly from now on… Only to discover on the next run through, it’s just as terrible and incorrect.

Where the hell did we get this from? School? Parents? Ourselves?

I personally have never (ever ever ever) gotten something straight away… And I’m supposed to be ‘gifted’ on guitar.

We start learning with this massive expectation that we’ll nail everything and never make a mistake. So, with this belief, it’s inevitable that we are going to FAIL. We are set for a lot if pain and frustration. No wonder so many people procrastinate or worse, quit!

The way we learn is unique for everyone, but we all share in the fact that we all need to ‘program’ new skills. And the way we program is through repetition. Ever heard the phrase ‘Repetition is the mother of skill’?

The difference on a person to person level, is the amount of times new information has to be repeated before it becomes a part of you playing. So a ‘gifted’ person might make the connection after fewer repetitions, however they will still have to repeat the new skill many times, there’s no getting away with it.

When you’re learning something new… Remove yourself from the process, and simply observe yourself doing the exercise or chord or whatever. Gently guide yourself to repeat the process and keep it small and simple.

Then once programmed you can make the process a little larger until a whole song is nailed.

Remember, no-one nails it the first time and has it mastered… a master has simply played it a thousand times.

Happy mastering the guitar, Guitar Freaks.


  1. Andrew Zapenas

    The psychologist in you nailed it, brother. Its about lowering expectations and enjoying the process. Kudos on the pressing technique, BTW.

  2. Tom Rodrigues

    Thanks Mark. I really enjoy these encouraging emails.

  3. Bill Bufe

    For whatever reason, I don’t expect mastery of anything guitar related straight away. I know it takes time and practice. But when it comes to playing tennis, I forgot to apply the same guideline. Mastery of any skill takes time and practice. A good reminder for everything we try to do!

  4. Gerry

    Thanks Mark for this very encouraging message 🙂

  5. John

    I use to play years ago, and was quite good. I set it down about 35-40 years ago. Just recently I went and bought me some good instruments and equipment, thinking it might be a bit like riding a bike. Surprisingly, with age, my fingers are not what they use to be, I mean not just slow and soft, but they are getting crooked. And this is making it like starting from scratch. All the fingerings that use to be so natural, and feeling that they kinda still are, actually aren’t because of my older fingers. That had me very discouraged. After reading your blogs, I have put to use your mind lessons, and that is making the physical practice a bit better for me. I am over the fact that I cant play like I did years ago with my younger hands, even they want to go where they once knew, but am learning to play all over again and will knowingly be able to play well with my older hands. Sounds a bit weird, but it is what it is. Thanks, Mark, for the brain lessons. This kind of decipline is exactly what I need to stay interested and motivated.

    1. christopher brooks

      I have the same problem as John in that i never really played much before and a lot more years have gone by. Just turned 70 but i am encouraged by the Blogs Thanks Mark.

  6. Nancy Kraker

    Your blogs are always so timely. Was just thinking this after my lesson this afternoon but once again found encouragement in your words. You have a great teaching style. So glad I found Jamorama. Thanks Mark!!!

  7. Lacee

    I just recently started your lessons. I was always ‘gifted’ when it came to piano and singing. This is my third attempt at trying to learn the guitar because I just couldn’t understand why I wasn’t picking things up so easy, all due to this mindset. I’d get frustrated playing the E chord because I just couldn’t get my first finger to quit muting the string next to it. After reading this I’ll just have to try again and practice. Love the way you teach and thank you so much for providing such an excellent way for us beginners to start.

  8. Ronld Leveille

    hi Mark,
    Very interesting reading . Yes some days I say too myself god I’m I ever gonna learn , but like you keep trying and it will get easier , also I would like to say thanks for teaching me all this great stuff . You have taught me a lot. Thanks again Mark

  9. Joe Mc Donald (Ireland)

    I need these pep talks Mark, I probably am to hard on myself which leads to procrastination and a loss of self confidence if I don’t perceive any quick improvement. I shall try to keep chipping away and at 57 years old I should have patience by now.

  10. Mary Thompson

    i quite agree,following yourbegineers course,everything great until the slow rock strum not got it yet but will might take a thousand times but i will nail it

  11. Colin Beniston

    Thank you for these little “pep” talks. You nail it every-time. Perseverance is the key alright. I started guitar at age 62, I’m almost 64 now. Barre chords!!! I thought I would never be able to get them, but know what? With perseverance a little bit at a time I’m getting it. They may not be perfect, but sure are better than when I started. I may never be a rockin guitar player, but sure have fun…. The frustration becomes a little less each time I practice. Thanks for these articles and your online lesson are awesome too. Cheers

    1. Mark McKenzie Post author

      Thanks Colin. I’m glad you’re enjoying the lessons and having fun playing… that’s what it’s all about right? Keep rockin, my friend.

  12. asantha samaraweera

    Its true and thank you for yr lessons

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